Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is a young adult contemporary fantasy novel coming out this September. It will be available in hardcover, as an ebook, and as an audiobook. Since it ends with “to be continued,” there will be at least one sequel, although I haven’t been able to find any information on it or how many books there will be total. (Update: I asked Laini Taylor about the number of books on Twitter and she said there are two sequels planned at the moment.)
Karou, a 17-year-old art student living in Prague, is rather unusual with her myriad tattoos, blue hair (that she swears grows that color!), and propensity to disappear on mysterious errands. With a sketchbook full of characters that are clearly not human and background stories for each, she has a reputation for a wild imagination. However, it’s a true story, and Brimstone, the star of Karou’s drawings, raised her and is the one who sends her on dangerous errands that even Karou doesn’t understand.
Actually, there’s a lot about her life Karou doesn’t understand. Where did she come from and why has she always had these strange markings on her hands? What is Brimstone’s fascination with collecting teeth and reason for sending her out on a moment’s notice to bring them to him? Most importantly, why is everything about Karou and where she came from such a closely guarded secret?
The arrival of angels and burning fires around the world begins the unraveling of it all – both an ancient enmity and a past love.
Ever since I discovered Laini Taylor’s Dreamdark books, I have been a fan and each of her books I’ve read since then has only cemented that even more. She is one of those rare authors who has a special gift for excelling at every part of crafting a story, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone is amazing. The writing is gorgeous, the dialogue is both creative and flowing, the characters are whimsical yet real, the mythology is imaginative as it slowly unfolds, and it is never dull. I do believe Laini Taylor’s greatest gift is her way with words and how she can do everything from write a beautifully worded passage to a humorous conversation to painting exactly how emotions like deep loneliness feel.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is reminiscent of the stories in Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch: Three Times and has more in common with that than her Dreamdark books, which are lighter and do not contain any references to sex. It deals with love in a world infused with mythology that draws from other general myths but still remains unique. It’s populated by characters with different motivations and drives, whose complexity comes out throughout the course of the story. As the main character, Karou is of course the most fleshed out. She’s so vibrant with her slight mischievous steak that leads her to waste the wishes she’s given by Brimstone on frivolous things like getting her way or wreaking some vengeance on an ex-boyfriend. (Rest assured, it was relatively minor vengeance in the grand scheme of things and he very much deserved what he had coming to him!) Underneath her creative spirit that seems so full of life is such a deep longing to be loved. With no family in the human world she mainly inhabits and only one close friend, a girl she can’t even openly talk to about her secret world beyond the portals or the reason she disappears on “errands,” Karou is haunted by an abiding loneliness.
The details of the world Karou visits trickle slowly throughout the novel, and even Karou doesn’t know a lot of them at the beginning of the book. The mysteries stack up, and by the final pages much is revealed about the past and the nature of the “devils” and the “angels.” It’s not black and white, good or bad, and I particularly liked this nature and how sympathetic most of the different characters and their actions were.
Toward the end, the book did shift more focus more on the romance and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about that at first. It was a bit more of a rushed relationship than I normally like, but as hinted at earlier, there was much more complexity to it than first revealed. While I initially felt there was more emphasis on the love story than I wanted when it became more of a central part of the story, that didn’t last for long once the details came out. By the end of the story, the past had come out in to the open, but the next book will need to deal with the consequences of a present act done without all the information.
After reading through this review, I feel that it is much more vague than normal and that I’m not saying as much about the book as usual, but I really, really don’t want to give too much away about Karou’s other world and spoil it. A lot of the fun in reading this book was in seeing these mysteries set up and then slowly learning more about the answers over the course of the novel. Another big strength was the writing, and since I don’t have a final copy, I can’t even quote an example from that. (However, I will be on the lookout for excerpts and will make sure I post a link to one if I come across one at any point!)
The more I read by Laini Taylor, the more impressed I am. Her Dreamdark books were lovely, and “Hatchling” in Lips Touch: Three Times is quite possibly the best piece of fiction shorter than novel length I’ve read. Likewise, Daughter of Smoke and Bone showcases some gorgeous writing and creativity. The world is dark but hopeful, the characters are memorable and vibrant, and it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s one of those rare books that I find it hard to imagine anyone who likes fantasy not enjoying, at least as long as they don’t have a problem with a romantic storyline or conversations about what constitutes an “unnecessary penis.”
My Rating: 9.5/10
Where I got my reading copy: I picked up an ARC at Book Expo America.